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Published: 03.11.2005, 06:00
Modified: 02.11.2005, 21:43
"Times Higher Education" ranking: ETH loses ground
From 10th to 21st

In the second publication of the 200 best universities in the world from the "Times Higher Education Supplement" ETH loses ground noticeably but maintains its place among the best dozen in the world in it core area of activity. ETH provides a neat demonstration of the insidious character of such rankings: it is difficult to fully explain the stark variation compared to last year's ranking.

Norbert Staub

In the impatiently awaited second world university ranking from the "Times Higher Education Supplement“, ETH Zurich slipped eleven places from its ranking in 2004. In this year's list of the world's 200 best universities, published last Friday, ETH is now at place 21. Undisputedly, Harvard is again judged to be the best university in the world. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology lies in second place, and the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, climb to places 3 and 4, respectively.

Paris instead of Zurich

The two world-class English universities were thus able to improve their position at the top of this ranking, which is otherwise dominated by US institutions (Stanford: 5, Berkeley: 6, Yale: 7). England clearly marks its presence as home to some of the most renowned higher educational institutions with the London School of Economics (11) and Imperial College London (13), with which ETH is associated in the IDEA League. In this year's "Times“ ranking, somewhat surprisingly, the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris takes over from ETH as the leading university in continental Europe, moving up from place 27 to place 10.

As far as Europe is concerned, ETH remains within the leading group at place 6. The picture is similar if one takes solely ETH's scientific domains of natural sciences and technology into account: in both areas ETH Zurich now lies at place 12 worldwide. By comparison: in the current Shanghai Jiao Tong University ranking, ETH Zurich is on place 27 (1).

Aspiring China

At place 34, ETH's sister university, the EPF Lausanne, was more or less able to maintain its ranking of last year (2004: 32). For the first time the University of Zurich has entered the list of the best 200, and is in fact at place 85. Two other partners of ETH in the IDEA League have gained ground: The TU Delft improves its ranking from 78 to 53 and the RWTH Aachen is now in place 172 (2004: 184). Looking for nations outside Europe and the USA in the foremost positions, the University of Tokyo continues to be a good address (at 16; 2004: 12) and the University of Beijing (at 15; 2004: 17) is a force to be reckoned with. Both the Technical University and the University in booming Hong Kong also attain good rankings (at place 43 and 41, respectively).

New indicator

A study of the methods used to compile the ranking shows important changes compared to last year's. The reference university, i.e. Harvard, instead of 1,000 points as in last year's ranking, was assigned only 100 points, thus narrowing the difference between the places.


Harvard remains unchallenged in first place and British universities join US magnate institutions as the second strongest fraction in the latest "Times Higher Education" list that ranks the world's top 200 universities.

Another innovation is the inclusion of evaluations from 333 big companies from diverse sectors with regard to the value of degree holders from each university for the labour market.This factor was accorded 10 per cent weight in the final ranking. Peer consultation thus lost some of its importance, although it remains the most important single factor with a weight of 40 per cent. The number of active researchers consulted globally for the ranking has been increased from 1,300 to 2,375.

Fall in cited research

The cited research (2) of scientists at each university was weighted with 20 per cent, as last year and the number of students per faculty also 20 per cent. The number of foreign students made up 5 per cent of the final note–the same as last year. The same significance was accorded to the number of international lecturers at each university.

A glance at the individual assessment criteria shows that with 49 out of 100 points for peer evaluation, ETH fares well. ETH also got almost full marks in the international lecturers category, namely 98 out of 100. A disappointment, on the other hand, is the result of the evaluation by companies. Here ETH got just 7 points. What is decisive for its fall in this year's ranking, however, is that the university only got 8 out of 100 for cited research. Last year this note was over 60, a result that induced the "Times“ to award ETH Zurich the title of European "citations' champion".

It must be considered whether such a collapse within a year accurately reflects reality or whether other reasons are responsible for the changed picture. The fact, for example, that the terms used to describe ETH Zurich internationally are not used consistently–apart from "ETH Zurich“ the university also figures under other terms, such as the "Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich". This surely makes it difficult to find conclusive proof of the number of citations.

Link to the current edition of the "Times Higher Education Supplement":
Cf. ETH Life article on the "Times Higher Education“ ranking 2004:

(1) Cf. ETH Life article on the Shanghai Jiao Tong University ranking 2005:
(2) Source: Thomson’s Essential Science Indicators, 1995 to 2005.

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